Robert Basile, a technician in Richmond Hill, Ont., was working on an old four-post alignment lift when the unexpected happened.
While raising the front end of the vehicle off the ramp, the scissor jack suddenly gave way. The vehicle dropped back down to the ramp, and the jack crashed all the way to the floor, just inches from his feet.
"It still scares the hell out of me!" he says. Ever since then, he has been careful to check every lift he works on before getting under it.
"We work under hoists all the time, so you don’t give a second thought to it," he says. "But now I make sure everything’s where it’s supposed to be, looks good, and the safeties are in place."
Robert was lucky. There have been serious injuries and deaths under hoists that succumb to a serious, catastrophic flaw. Even partial collapses can do serious damage to persons and property.
The fact is, any number of things can compromise a lift – from undone maintenance to faulty manufacturing.
When you’re looking for a new lift, you want ease-of-use, increased productivity, and versatility. But above all, safety has to be your first consideration.
"Unlike other shop equipment, if a lift fails, a technician can be seriously injured or killed," says Gary Kennon, chairman of the board of the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) and president of lift manufacturer Rotary. "It is imperative that shop owners, managers, and dealer principals consider a number of factors including safety when deciding which lifts to buy."
ALI is an association of responsible manufacturers of automotive lifts. Its purpose is to promote safety in the design, construction, installation and use of automotive lifts, which benefits the users of automotive lifts as well as the manufacturers. In addition to maintenance tips and user guides, ALI helps shops understand what they should be looking for when they’re in the market for an automotive lift.
As the global sourcing brings more suppliers into the marketplace, tough questions need to be asked about manufacturing standards.
Here are four tips for choosing a lift that’s right for you.
1. Buy certified only The gold "ALI Certified/Validated by ETL" label indicates that a lift has been tested and certified to meet current safety standards. Only lifts that have passed testing by ETL, an independent company, can display this label. The certification is for an individual model of lift, not the lift manufacturer. If a manufacturer has one ALI-certified lift, that does not mean all its lifts are certified.
2. Inspect it yourself Look at the quality of construction. Do the welds appear thick and uniform? Are the steel components clean or are they covered with weld splatter? Do the inner arms fit snugly in the outer arms? Check for safety systems, including mechanical safety locks, arm restraints where fine adjustment is possible and a spotting dish (for frame-engaging lifts) to ensure that the vehicle is positioned properly.
3. Consider the maker How much experience does the manufacturer have in engineering and building vehicle lifts? What is its reputation? Who designed the lift? Is each lift individually tested to meet ALI safety standards before it’s shipped to the customer? Are factory-trained installers and technicians available, or are you on your own for installation and maintenance? Are the operating instructions that come with the lift clear and easy to understand? Does the manufacturer stand behind its lifts with a strong warranty? How much liability insurance does the manufacturer carry? Is the manufacturer certified to ISO 9001 quality standards?
4. You get what you pay for If a lift seems unusually inexpensive, ask why other lifts cost more. Like with any tool or piece of equipment, a cheap lift will generally cost more in the long run because of excessive downtime and repair costs. Ask where replacement parts will come from, how quickly they’ll arrive and who will install them. What is included in the price – accessories, shipping, professional installation?
What does the manufacturer do to ensure product quality and consistency? How is the lift packaged for shipping?
Once a lift is installed, technicians also have responsibility for their own safety. Careless vehicle spotting and lift operation can lead to dangerous situations – even when using ALI-certified lifts.
To avoid catastrophic failures:
* Inspect your lift daily. Never operate it if it malfunctions or if it has broken or damaged parts.
* Operating controls are designed to close when released. Don’t block open or override them.
* Never overload your lift. The manufacturer’s rated capacity is shown on a nameplate affixed to the lift.
* Only trained and authorized personnel should position the vehicle and operate the lift.
* Load a vehicle lift carefully. Position lift supports to contact at the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended lifting points. If you’re working under the vehicle, the lift should be raised high enough for the lift’s locking device to engage.
Be cautious about the lift you buy and vigilant about the upkeep. Your safety depends on it!
To learn more about lift certification, lifting points, and shop safety, visit ALI’s web site at www.autolift.org.